In this Digital era of ‘Instafame’ and ‘Snapchat Queens’, we do not need to explain to you how important Social Media is for your online Marketing. If you are taking your brand, product or business to China (where 725 million Chinese people are projected to be social media users by 2022), it seems only logical to join the online Chinese Social Media.

However, how do you market your brand in a social media environment where all western platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, are blocked?

Keep reading for an insight introduction to the Chinese Social Media environment, with tips and tricks from our Traveling Ambassador Mireille Mali. Mireille Mali is a passionate online marketeer, who has a blog on the Chinese Social Media Channel Weibo. She helps brands reach a larger online audience on an international scale. Have a look at her website if you are interested in seeing more of her work.

All Western Social Media Channels are banned in China

First and foremost, as mentioned before, all western social channels are banned in China. That means; no Facebook, no Instagram, no Youtube, no Twitter, no nothing. New VPN’s pop up frequently, to allow limited access, however connections are slow. Furthermore, since 99% of the Chinese audience is present on Chinese channels, it does not make much sense to focus on the Chinese audience on your Western Channels.

Where to start?

The Chinese Social Media environment changes constantly. From newsfeeds, to live stream apps to zillions of video blogging platforms, there are enough options. How do you know where to start?

The short, yet vague answer is; ‘it depends’. It depends on your marketing strategy, your target group, what’s hip and what’s trending at the present time. Therefore, in-depth market research is necessary to prepare yourself. See below an overview of the current Chinese Social Media environment, showing every western Social Media Channel and its Chinese counterpart.

WeChat: You scan me, or I scan you?

For those who have lived in China or who have some experience communicating via mobile in China, know that WeChat is the main app in China. Frankly, you do not need a wallet as you walk the streets of China, if you have this app on your phone. You can use it to pay in stores, transfer money to friends, buy plane tickets, follow your friends, brands, products, services, etc. Everything is possible!

Needless to say, this is the place to start.

WeChat includes a timeline that somewhat looks like a combination of Instagram and Facebook. Here, you will see updates from friends you’ve connected with inside the WeChat app by means of a scannable QR-Code.

Additionally, there is also the option to follow brands, influencers or any other kind of registered newsfeed via subscription accounts. And this is where you want to be as a Western brand. Seems totally easy, sign up for a company account, translate your content to Chinese, and you’re good to go.

Think again. This would not be China, if something so simple, was not made difficult. Companies outside of China are not eligible to register for such a company page, unless their business is registered in China. So, going through a Digital Marketing Agency or any other Chinese partner is inevitable.

With 963 million active monthly users. It is well worth the hassle though.

Chinese Social Media etiquette and style

Everyone knows (or should know) that you cannot just copy-paste your western business strategy in China. Do not make that same mistake on Chinese Social Media. The Chinese audience has a different taste and behaves in a different way than most westerners do online.

Most westerners love to show everyone around them what they have been up to, what they had for dinner, where they have traveled, and so on. Most westerners have open profiles, set for everyone to see. Chinese are different. They like to keep it personal, out of the eyes of the public. Do not misunderstand, they still love to share. However, in a more private way, amongst friends. However, this does not count for everyone. China has a large amount of Key Opinion Leaders (KOL), which are famous Chinese influencers.  The average following of a KOL lies around 10 million. Something most Instagram influencers, can only dream of. And this is just a small example of how big of an impact you can have socially in China.

How to market your Chinese Social Media Channels

Scanning a QR-Code is the way to follow and connect on WeChat, therefore being ‘social’ is not all that ‘social’ in China. This makes it harder for brands to establish themselves. WeChat groups are used to promote official accounts as well as paid advertising., There are ways of building a following more quickly on WeChat, however it is not as easy as building a following on Instagram. However, you can be sure that the following you built on WeChat, is as organic as a following can be.

What about Weibo?

Like we mentioned before, the Chinese prefer not to be too visible online. Which means that the famous Instagram/Twitter variant Weibo, is used mostly by KOL’s or brands. Do not be mistaken though, the average daily users on Weibo was 154 million in March 2017. Therefore, Weibo is a channel well worth considering. Even more so, because it is also much easier to set up for an overseas entity. All it takes is a Chinese phone number.

Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being ‘social’ in China. The Social Media landscape in China is fragmented, fast-changing, and completely different from the West.

Marketing your business in a country with more than twice the population of the US can be very daunting. And rightly so. Our advice? Do some research first and set out a content + marketing strategy, before you dive head-first into the social game.